Using open-ended activities in a mixed-ability ESL class

ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers need to use activities that activate as many ESL students as possible for as long as possible. This article provides an overview of activities that can be implemented with fairly large mainstream ELL classes within differentiated instruction.

Why open activities?

In a mixed-ability ESL class, teachers should aim for full class participation rather than single-student activations, such as calling a student to the board or having a student write a response on a single piece of paper that runs through the class. One way teachers can facilitate this process is to offer a variety of open-ended exercises.

Using Open Activities in Differentiated Instruction

An open-ended activity allows students to work at their own pace and allows for a variety of responses. However, for the purposes of full class participation, teachers should target activities that ALL students can do together. During this time, the teacher visually checks the students’ answers, correcting whenever possible.

This type of interaction gives the teacher more control over the management and organization of the classroom. The teacher may use open-ended activities during various segments of the lesson, particularly in the first twenty minutes of the lesson, where students are learning or reviewing important lexical (basic) vocabulary.

Open ideas for the beginning of the lesson.

1. Increase the number of open brainstorming activities (many responses to a teacher prompt)
2. Encourage students to respond together, pointing to things, raising their hands or fingers, responding in chorus, moving their bodies, marking items, or writing responses.

For example, if you are teaching colors and body parts, you can have students open their textbook and point to the item (in this case, body part or color) that you mention. If you are reviewing vocabulary using pictures, number the pictures. Then the students have to show the number of fingers according to the picture.

End of course activities

1. Students can recap what new Lexi learned during the lesson by using the sequence of pictures and numbers (mentioned above) or by simply pointing to the pictures in their textbook.
2. Dictation. Students can write single letters or even nonsense words. Intermediate students can write the word and more advanced students can write the sentence or sentence.
3. Command Games: Simply telling students to do things or Simon Says.
4. Quick guessing games: based on a sketch on the board.
5. Brainstorm: How many things can students think of that… start with a certain letter, have a certain letter, are animals, are colors, are in this room, or whatever they want? Give them a stretchy but achievable goal, like reaching 10/20/30 words, and try to hit it. o:…we have 3 minutes left in the lesson, let’s see how many words we can get to.

last words

It is crucial that both teacher and students understand that students will progress at different rates. The emphasis on engaging the whole class through open-ended activities takes effort. Students must understand that they are working at a level that will take them one step forward. This is at the heart of the principles of differentiated instruction.

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